Where as music with up-front lyrics, where there is communication using the usual conventions of recognisable words and familiar language taking place, is a format in which it is relatively ease to make yourself understood, instrumental music has be much cleverer in how it interacts with the listener. In the case of Martin Ptak’s gorgeous River Tales, it can only be though a set of emotive responses to the music itself. With no lyrics to hide behind the music obviously has to take on many roles; voice, mood, musical engine room, sonic painter and more, and do so within the logical confines of the subject at hand, in this case to capture musically the flow from source to sea of the River Danube that Ptak grew up alongside.
Interesting things happen when worlds collide. Sometimes the results are catastrophic and earth-shattering, sometimes they are unexpectedly compatible and beautiful. Forest Robots has always fallen into the latter category and this new album of electronic music used to describe the majesty of the natural world is no exception. Continuing where Super Moon Moonlight left off Timberline and Mountain Crest continues its mission to describe the world beyond the man-made in sweeping synth instrumentals, electro-classical grandeur and technological soundscapes.
Japanese harp and synth player Ian Thorn and Bassist Alex Lawton met on tour in Europe, performing as part of a Canadian space-rock orchestra. They bonded over their shared passion for Finnish experimental band Circle, Pink Floyd, Television, Broadcast and Brian Eno, and went on to form instrumental space-surf band, Japanese Television, with James Moriaty and Tim Jones.
They put together a collection of tracks that would make their debut self-titled EP and went into “the studio” (i.e a village hall outside of Peterborough armed with an 8-track) with Kristian Bell of The Wytches at the helm. The EP is out on 7th September via revered underground label Tip Top Recordings (Cassels, Sun Cop).
Today the band share first single from the EP; Tick Tock – a white knuckle ride journey through time and space. The single was given its first play last night on John Kennedy’s Radio X, with John making it a ‘hot one’. He said the track had “shades of Electrelane”.
Sitting here in England writing about a band from Croatia not too long after my own country’s World Cup defeat to them, might cause some writers to look harshly on them through some sense of sport related, warped national pride. Well, with me, music has always been way more important than over paid prima donnas kicking a bag of wind about and get a weekly wage that is the equivalent to the cost of a new hospital wing. And anyway, how could you not love what Acid Hags do musically?
Acid Hags make instrumental music that wanders between rock muscle, blues interludes, prog-rock intricacies, off beat jazz infused post-rock and shimmering psychedelic textures. Yes, it is rock more than anything else but runs the complete gamut of sub-genres, eras and styles. It liberally mixes and matches themes and ideas, hops generic fences, gene splices the sound of one scene or era with another and pretty much sonically goes where it wants.
Instrumental music connects with the listener in a much different way than music that relies on lyrics, where the latter has the benefit of direct and obvious communication through words, the former must do so through the more fluid language of the music and the emotions, feelings and moods that it juggles. A much more challenging task, one requiring deftness, careful thought and an ear for interesting composition. Thankfully Acid Hags have these in no short supply. They also have no shortage of technical skill and it is this ability to build intense and infectious passages as easily as they lay down almost ambient atmospheres that is the reason they succeed where many lesser musicians have failed at the same task.
Misanthrope is a perfect example of the dynamic and diversity of the band, a hypnotic blend of chiming riffs and a bass line that moves between harmonising and marauding about being all broody and menacingly and generally frightening the children, whilst Fungicide is a crazy and complex bundle of sound, sometimes songlike, other times just an intense workout, but engaging and challenging in either form.
At the other end of the spectrum, e.p. closer, Bon Appetite, cleverly uses space as an instrument alongside some off beat, off kilter and skittering soundscapes and Tanker is a slow burning combination of all of the above, taking its time to revel its mercurial nature and all the better for it. It’s also a collection of songs that drummers in particular and those interested in time signatures in general will love, as not only do they chose some pretty interesting beat structures for their songs, they also like to take a polyrhythmic approach, shifting timing and tempo as they go to create even more diversity.
Some might call it music made for other musicians and I’m sure that those with musical training will totally appreciate what Acid Hags have created on Wild. But it is also music for those with discerning musical tastes, those fed up with the 4/4 of the mainstream, those who want to be challenged, those who want to follow a band into exciting and fairly unexplored territory. As musical adventures go, this is great, why take the road well travelled when you can follow bands like this into new musical worlds…wait for me to grab my coat, I’m coming with you!
If the term instrumental rock immediately conjures up thoughts of being in the lift of a big department store or the background score for an advert announcing the new season of Formula 1 racing, then you need Itay Lavi in your life. Yes, instrumental rock is exactly what is going on here, put Lavi is cleverer than your run of the mill rock show-boater, and Parts will prove to you just why that is. He may use all the usual building blocks of the rock composer – guitar riffs, steady bass pulses, confident drums, cool lead breaks, nothing new there, but it is how they are deftly entwined that is the real charm of the record.
Whereas some guitarists would be interested in bombast and over the top technicality, Lavi is more interested in subtlety and flow, the songs still move along at a decent pace, they groove and spark but they do so in the same way that, say Steely Dan constructed their own sonic gems. And this soulfulness, this west-coast infused style is tempered by rock from more progressive climes and the subtlety of the former and the deft mechanics of the latter make perfect bedfellows.
Like all instrumental creations, without the direct communication of lyrics, it is up to the listener to paint the scenes and scenarios suggested by the titles and the sound of the music, unlimited by what the artist himself has designated the song to be about, each is limited only by the listeners imagination and therefore different from person to person.
Desert Breeze follows some gentle and exotic lines whilst Safe Place drips with a feeling of tranquility. But it is Escape of The Dragon which brims with excitement and energy, heading further into the traditional realms of someone like Stevie Vai rather than the previous calmer waters that the album shares with people like Pat Metheny.
It’s a great album, full of dynamic shifts from soaring crescendos to brooding breaks, virtuosity balanced with understatement. Who needs lyrics when music can talk to you this eloquently?
Check the album out HERE
You can trust Mr Dog The Bear to take an unusual approach to releasing an album. Normally, as a reviewer, I receive an intangible link to the album’s on line home, if I’m lucky I get a physical version through the post. But Mr Dog The Bear has always been about music built around a visual aspect, cinematic and wide screen in its scope it has always felt more like a film score or a soundtrack than a conventional music release. Which is why, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, the new album arrived as a series of videos, as visual representations of the sonic emotions being created.
Previous releases have often felt like an ambient band testing deeper waters, gentle, understated and restrained but with glorious crescendos of music threaded through as they occasionally leave the safety of the shallows behind. Ghosts, however, is the sound of full immersion and opening salvo All These Constant Reminders draws a line of intent which is hard to ignore. Growing from familiar slow burning grace it eventually takes the listener to a place where dramatic post-rock walls of sound and exquisite symphonic sweeps are the norm.
And something else that they previously only toyed with but now forms an integral part of the sound is vocals, Wait being a more conventional pop-rock groover with classical undertones, Eleutheria a dark and brooding piece with modern indie vocal deliveries and Fireflies calls back to their earlier Cocteau Twins infused haze. Apostrophe combines the conventional wisdom of song structure with the left field thinking that we have come to expect, commercial enough to be popular, cultish enough to be cool and the title track is a slow, mercurial piano piece, the perfect contrast of space and intensity to wrap the album up.
Watching Mr Dog The Bear grow over the last few years has been a joy. They have been a band..project…collaboration…I still don’t really know what they are, that has subverted expectation at every turn and in their solitary and masked way made music for all the right reasons, that is, for their own sake. The results, of which this album is the perfect summation, show that you don’t have to follow fashion, advice, trend or zeitgeist, that the best and indeed the most original music is that which just naturally flows from the creative soul. A lesson more people could probably do with learning!
It is interesting to see how our musical tastes mature over time. Much of the music of my formative years was about making a lot of noise in the shortest amount of time, short, sharp musical shock treatment designed to get the job done in the time it takes to lightly boil and egg. But today with more life experience, a broader approach to music but still a thirst to find the next artist who’s music truly affects me in new and unseen ways, I find my musical taste palette a much wider place. More often than not I find my needs in more considered and understated pieces and in albums like Catharsis.
Aidan Koop makes music which is a reviewers dream. So much music follows firm templates and, good as it may be, from a review point of view you are often just reworking the same language and over used descriptions, into slightly new forms. Catharsis is not like that. It is sweeping, ephemeral, restrained and elegant. In short, it is gorgeous. And that’s my point, I have already slipped into the sort of descriptions which I would never get away with when confronted by the usual three minute pop workout or a bedroom rapper armed with a set of beats and a working knowledge of auto tuning.
As the amount of wannabe musicians, fledgling bands and self styled producers seems to form an everlarger percentage of society, thanks to the ease of access and cost of home technology, the fight to get noticed also seems ever more desperate. The biggest problem with being on such a trajectory is however much an artist kids themself that they are driven by integrity and freedom of choice the reality is the journey to commercial success at least is one of compromise, of bending to the fickle hand of fashion, of subtly playing the great game.
Few artists really adhere to the art for art sake philosophy that confers total freedom, which is why the enigmatic Will Elmore is such a breath of fresh air. His recordings turn up in my inbox with no ulterior motive, no request to be reviewed or promoted, they arrive merely on the basis that he thinks I might like to give them a listen. How cool is that?
Fragments of Sound is the prefect title for what he does so well as a myriad of genre hopping soundscapes are unfurled like a sketch book for the ears. Ambient yet vividly coloured instrumentals wander between late night dance tracks, noir-ish film scores, blissed out future classics and primal techno-chants. There is just enough common ground to make for a consistent listening experience but more than enough musical flight of fancy and imagination to deliver surprisingly supple and subtle changes of direction.
Art for Art’s sake is a wonderful way to approach the craft at hand and if the result is such a rich tapestry of ideas, such freedom and such brave sound choices maybe more artists should forget about “shifting units” and the amount of followers they have on Instagram and just follow Will’s template. Imagine a world based around that utopian concept?
If the drum was the first instrument to be conceived, after the human voice that is, then the idea of making an instrumental album with drums and drum technology at its core is certainly tapping into a primal beat. Davide Compagnoni is more often found within the ranks of power trio Stearica, but with Khompa he offers something startlingly new and forward thinking, even by the high standards he has already set himself.
An audio-visual live act built on a real drummer using a conventional kit, drum triggers, a laptop and a sequencer allowing him to cocoon his drumming in real time orchestration, electronic harmonies and instrumental washes. And if the concept of rooting the sound in the primal resonance of the world’s oldest instrument may suggest something archaic and folksy, the delivery is as contemporary as anything you have heard, bordering on futuristic even.
I must admit that as a full 8 track recording the concept gets familiar very quickly. I’m sure as a live spectacle it gains a lot from being in the same room as the listener but as something to throw on the CD player…not so much. The warped and manipulated vocals and staccato rhythms of Upside Down World offer a bit of an interesting twist but this is certainly a set of tracks that will be appreciated for their considerable technical prowess rather than for their musicality.
Where to begin, where to begin! Trying to describe Alarmists instrumental creations is a bit like trying to untangle a ball of string. Maybe if I find a loose end and work my way in from there I may be able to put it into words that everyone can understand. A loose end that allows me to unravel and understand their math rock complexities, their unconventional jazz leaning, approach to structure, the fact that you don’t even notice that it is a totally instrumental delivery, such is the amount of twisting musical information that your brain is trying to assimilate.
Alt-rock urges tangles around shimmering synth-pop playfulness, classical and jazz disciplines can be viewed between the electronica and windswept atmospheres drift through the more heavily structured musical landscapes. And then you realise that the ball of string is perfect as it is. Unravel it and you may gain understanding, leave it as it is and you get unfathomable beauty, unique mystery and great art. Not everything has to be explained or even understood, sometimes it is enough just to experience.